I miss hitting people.
In the weeks before the novel Corona virus shut everything down, I was preparing for a fight—a three-round exhibition match against a local eighteen year old southpaw named Abraham. For six days a week the fight team in my gym prepared as if the bouts would come off. Then, two days before the event, a mere six weeks before my fiftieth birthday, we learned it was canceled.
It probably would have been my last match in any case. I had been telling myself I would stop competitive fighting at the half-century mark. I’d sensed the approaching milestone, and though I didn’t want to let it go, I felt my body telling me something I needed to hear. More importantly, I told my wife—no more coming home with black eyes and busted lips every week, no more 3-hour sessions in the gym getting my sides and legs smashed. No more slipping between the ring’s ropes to exchange blows with fighters half my age, young enough to be my children.
Pointing out the sonic affinities between fighting and writing seems a poetic indulgence, but the similarities are more than superficial. There is an inward attention, a paradoxical isolation/intimacy, even an esoteric language. There are dozens of ways to throw a punch—some only subtly different, but each requiring its own coordination, balance and timing, and it can take years of practice before a fighter is ready to throw them in an actual bout. And just like strong writing, the punch begins someplace deep—building from the ground up, weaving its way up through the legs and hips, accelerating through the torso, chest and shoulders—before it exits though the first two knuckles of the fist.*
I certainly didn’t need fighting to be so rich to fall in love with it, but I’ve learned more during a decade of training and fighting in Utah gyms than I can explain in 500 words—and I suspect this part of my life is now over. Fighting is an enterprise that requires bodily practice in very close proximity with others, and I find it hard to imagine how we can return to a sport where breathing, sweating, and even bleeding on each other will be possible.
Still, I hope I’m wrong.
If I’m not, I’ll try to take what I’ve gleaned over years of fighting and fashion something new of it. I’ll rack up the road miles, running alone on the mountain where my house sits and training on the bags in my home gym. Most of all, I’ll think fondly of all the wonderful people I trained with and fought, and how once, before the pandemic, we wrought a kind of fraternity and rough beauty from the bloody end of a boxing glove.
* This reminds me of once listening to Robert Pinsky hold forth on the poet’s “column of air”—a notion that the poet laureate meant to wed the poetic line to the carnal instrument.